From David Gaughran:
I was at the London Book Fair last week – and I’ll be blogging about that soon – when the news broke that David Mamet is to self-publish his next book.
His reasons? ”Publishing is like Hollywood—nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”
While I think it’s great that someone as high-profile as David Mamet is self-publishing, I was very disappointed to find out the way he’s doing it.
. . . .
Literary agents in particular must be worried about what that means for their future, which explains their ludicrous reactions when someone like Barry Eisler states the above. However, a company called Argo Navis – a publisher-owned distributor – has come to their rescue, providing them with a way to re-insert themselves in the chain between self-publishing author and reader. And get their cut of course.
Mamet is represented by a major literary agency – ICM Partners – who are just one of many agencies to have signed a deal with Perseus Books-owned Argo Navis.
What Do Argo Navis Offer?
Essentially, Argo Navis are a distributor. They offer a portal through which authors’ work can be distributed to all the various retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo.
In exchange for this relatively trivial service, Argo Navis take a 30% cut. You read that right. After the retailer takes their standard cut (usually also 30%), Argo Navis take another 30% before passing on payments.
Obviously, this is massively overpriced compared to distributors like Smashwords or Draft2Digital, who only take 10%, and especially so when you compare the cost of going direct to retailers like Amazon (it’s free). But the problems with Argo Navis don’t end there.
Services like cover design, editing, formatting, scanning, and conversion are not included in this hefty price tag – but are available for a premium. Who provides those services? According to their website, it’s “third party specialists.”
. . . .
Why Are Literary Agents Using Argo Navis?
Argo Navis has been very clever with how they market their service. It’s pitched as agent-curated self-publishing - hey, it’s a step up from assisted self-publishing. Argo Navis don’t (and won’t) deal with authors directly, and will only accept titles for distribution submitted by literary agents.
This in turn allows agents to tap into what I call The Myth of the Segregated Marketplace - where authors believe that the visibility challenges resulting from the open nature of digital distribution are exclusively faced by self-published authors. Of course, those challenges are faced by all authors – however they publish. And given the abysmal rankings of books published via Argo Navis, it’s not a challenge that they are handling well.
But what’s in it for the agent? For starters, royalty checks come to their offices first (after Argo Navis have taken their considerable bite). This allows the agent to deduct their 15% before the author sees any money. Of course, it allows unscrupulous agents to take a little more – something enabled by Argo Navis only providing sales reports to agents rather than directly to authors – but I digress.
. . . .
At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that no reputable literary agency would go for this. Well, I wish that was the case. Here’s a list of agencies that have signed up with Argo Navis:
- Writers House
- ICM Partners
- Carol Mann Agency
- Cynthia Cannell Literary Agency
- The Hartnett Agency
- Paul Bresnick Literary Agency
- Pinder Lane & Garon-Brooke Associates
- Curtis Brown (US)
- April Eberhardt Literary
- David Black Agency
- Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency
- Folio Literary Management
- Levine Greenberg Literary Agency
- Liza Royce Literary Agency
- Melanie Jackson Agency
- Janklow & Nesbit Associates
- Joëlle Delbourgo Associates
- Arcadia Literary Agency
- Harvey Klinger
- APA Talent and Literary Agency
- Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency
- Irene Skolnick Literary Agency
- FinePrint Literary Management
- Donald Maass Literary Agency
. . . .
What’s In It For Authors?
There’s no upside to being funneled into this program. Participating authors get lower royalties, no sales reports, slower payments, and lose the ability to make quick changes to things like pricing – which is essential for marketing.
The money is the big one though, so I’d like to focus on that:
- An author self-publishing direct with KDP will receive up to 70% of list price.
- An author who self-publishes via Argo Navis will receive 41.65% of list price.
Link to the rest, including links to some Argo Navis books so you can check the covers and sales rank at Let’s Get Digital